Singer Luther Ingram Dies

R&B singer Luther Ingram has died. Ingram was best known for the early '70s hit "If Lovin' You Is Wrong, I Don't Want to Be Right."

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

Finally, a remembrance. The R&B singer Luther Ingram died this week. You may not know his name, but for listeners of a certain age, it won't take long to recognize his contribution to popular music. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates has this appreciation.

(Soundbite of song, "If Lovin' You is Wrong, I don't Want to Be Right")

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: In 1972, the afros were wide, the platform shoes were high, and the skirts were really, really short. If our mothers were worrying a little bit about what was going on at those basement parties barely illuminated by dim blue lights, Luther Ingram's hit wasn't going to make them feel any better. It oozed raw-edged, bluesy longing. Proprieties be damned, Luther wanted what he wanted. And as the adults suspected, that kind of erotic rule-breaking could be pretty contagious.

(Soundbite of song, "If Lovin' You is Wrong, I Don't Want to Be Right")

Mr. LUTHER INGRAM (Singer): (Singing) If lovin' you is wrong, I don't want to be right...

BATES: A native of Jackson, Tennessee, Luther Ingram began singing with a gospel group, the Midwest Crusaders, after his family moved north to Alton, Illinois. As a young man, he moved to New York to try to make it as a professional musician. To stretch his few dollars as far as possible, he had a roommate - a guy named Jimi Hendrix.

(Soundbite of music)

BATES: Ingram played backup for Ike Turner and later opened for Isaac Hayes. He co-authored "Respect Yourself" in 1972. It became a hit for the Staple Singers.

(Soundbite of song, "Respect Yourself")

THE STAPLE SINGERS (Singing Group): (Singing) Respect Yourself.

BATES: But it was a song that he didn't write but made his own that people remember best.

(Soundbite of song, "If Lovin' You is Wrong, I Don't Want to Be Right")

Mr. INGRAM: (Singing) If being right means being with you, I'd rather live alone...

BATES: Patricia Wilson Aden of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation says Ingram's soulful sound is very much a part of the Memphis-based sax record tradition.

Ms. PATRICIA WILSON ADEN (Rhythm and Blues Foundation): Very soulful, a deep, resonant male voice that women just love.

(Soundbite of song, "If Lovin' You is Wrong, I Don't Want to Be Right")

Mr. INGRAM: (Singing) If lovin' you is wrong...

BATES: Ingram's delivery on "If Lovin' You is Wrong" is so anguished, a lot of listeners assumed it was inspired by a personal catastrophe. Not so, says friend and music historian Bernie Hayes, author of "The Death of Black Radio."

Mr. BERNIE HAYES (Music Historian; Author, "The Death of Black Radio"): It had nothing to do with his personal life. It's the way he interprets the song.

(Soundbite of song, "If Lovin' You is Wrong, I Don't Want to Be Right")

Mr. INGRAM:(Singing) If lovin' you is wrong, I don't want to be right...

BATES: A number of artists from Isaac Hayes and Mille Jackson to Rod Stewart recorded "If Lovin' You is Wrong," but say the words or hum the first few bars, and it's Luther Ingram's voice - tinged with whiskey and collard greens - that floats into your mind's ear.

Luther Ingram died Monday from complications of diabetes. He was 69 years old. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song, "If Lovin' You is Wrong, I Don't Want to Be Right")

Mr. INGRAM: (Singing) Are you wrong to give your love to a married man? And am I wrong for trying to hold on the best thing I've ever had? If lovin' you is wrong, I don't want to be right. If lovin' you is wrong, I don't want to be right. I don't want to be right if it means being without you.

YDSTIE: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR news with contributions from Slate.com. I'm John Ydstie.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

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